Special musical tribute to Heb Celt’s 20th year

Alasdair White
Alasdair White
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The 20th anniversary of the internationally-acclaimed Hebridean Celtic Festival will be celebrated with the creation of a new musical composition by one of the islands’ most famous sons.

Alasdair White, the renowned fiddle player with the Battlefield Band and a musician with a long association with HebCelt, has been commissioned to write ‘An Iuchar’ (The Key) which will be premiered at the festival in Stornoway in the island of Lewis this summer.

Alasdair, who grew up in Stornoway, first appeared at HebCelt as a 13-year-old in 1998 when he was invited on stage with celebrated fiddler Alasdair Fraser to perform before the festival main stage audience.

Since then he has appeared at the award-winning event on numerous occasions, performing, tutoring and sharing his love of west coast tunes and fiddling style. He last appeared in 2013 when the Battlefield Band were one of the headline acts.

The commission involves creating an entire suite of new music and the performance will bring together a rich mix of celebrated musicians with whom Alasdair has collaborated over the years, including Seonaidh MacIntyre (pipes); Aaron Jones (bouzouki); Alan Kelly (accordion); Martin O’Neill (drums); Jarlath Henderson (uilleann pipes) and Ewan MacPherson (guitar, banjo).

‘An Iuchar’, which will be showcased on the opening night of the festival arena on 16 July, will be an hour-long piece featuring about 30 tunes. It will draw on Alasdair’s considerable experience and explore the influences that have shaped him as a musician.

It will reflect on the rich culture of the Hebrides and the legacy HebCelt has provided for the local creative community through its ambitious programming, international appeal and support for traditional music and the Gaelic language.

Alasdair, who is based part of the year in Florida, said HebCelt had been a great source of inspiration over the years. He said: “This is a great honour and I feel very proud and privileged to be given this opportunity by HebCelt which is held just a few miles from where I grew up.

“I have not done anything on this scale before so it’s rather daunting. But this project provides me with the opportunity to express my Hebridean heritage and draw on a myriad of influences that have shaped my musical career whilst showcasing my home festival.

“Part of the reason I’m a musician is down to seeing and hearing high-calibre acts at HebCelt. When you’re learning about music, seeing great performances puts things in context and inspires you.”

Caroline Maclennan, the HebCelt director, said: “Alasdair White is one of our foremost home-grown musicians and he was a natural choice for this commission coming from Lewis and having grown up with the festival.

“This project will provide Alasdair with a fabulous opportunity to stretch himself musically and further develop his skills through leading this project.

“The presentation of ‘An Iuchar’ at HebCelt 2015 will bring the story full circle. Staged within the main arena during the opening night, this will offer a unique insight for our international audience.”

Alasdair has been writing over the last two months in Florida and in Lewis. The music ranges from slower, expansive, more arranged pieces to more raucous and exciting medleys, taking the form of upbeat, lively tunes in traditional rhythms (such as jigs, reels, and Strathspeys) crafted together to make longer pieces with development and room for individual expression.

He is sharing the compositions on computer files with the other musicians who are currently playing in different parts of the world. They will come together for the first time to rehearse just four days before the premiere.

“I had a good idea who I wanted to play on this and I think I’ve planned it right but you never really know until you get everyone in the same room”, he said.

Alasdair hopes the HebCelt performance will not be the end of ‘An Iuchar’: “There is a lot of music there and I certainly hope this is not a one-off performance. I’m keen to record it and it would be nice if it was picked up by other festivals.

“HebCelt has compiled and presented shows at other events and festivals and it is anticipated that this new project has the potential to provide additional opportunities to represent HebCelt outwith the islands.”

This year’s HebCelt, which runs until 18 July, will also feature acts including Idlewild, Afro Celt Sound System, Treacherous Orchestra, the Karen Matheson Band, Shooglenifty, Chastity Brown, Le Vent du Nord, Raghu Dixit and Salsa Celtica.

Tickets for all events during the festival can be bought at www.hebceltfest.com/booking